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Homicide is a term which describes a number of offences. These can be grouped into murder, manslaughter, infanticide, corporate manslaughter and suicide. Murder and manslaughter are the most common types. This page will use homicide to illustrate how causation works in criminal law.

Sir Edward Coke described murder, the actus reus of which will be the case study of this page, as follows:

[Where a] person of sound memory and discretion unlawfully killeth a reasonable creature in being under the King’s peace, with malice aforethought, either express or implied

Voluntary acts

The actus rei of murder and manslaughter are identical, differentiated only by differing mentes reae. ‘Killeth’ describes a voluntary act which is both a factual and legal cause of death. If the defendant’s act is involuntary, such as an act of insanity as in Bratty v A-G for Northern Ireland [1963], or a reflex action, as in Hill v Baxter [1958], causation can be debated no further. There is no reason why a voluntary act cannot extend to death by omission, however, the term ‘voluntary act’ does not extend to moral involuntariness (duress is no defence to murder). Where an offence requires only proof of a state of affairs, the defendant must have had adequate control over that state of affairs, according to R v Robinson-Pierre [2013].

Causal contribution

R v Cheshire [1991] described causation as a question of fact for the jury, to be decided in accordance with legal principles...

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